Bitter cold makes routine memorable

Sunday, 6 a.m.: Get out of bed, stagger downstairs and start grinding coffee beans. What’s that white sheen through the window? Oh goodness, it must have snowed overnight! I should have moved my car. Stupid weather forecasters — they said the snow wouldn’t come through until this afternoon. So much for dinner with friends in Franklin tonight … So much, too, for getting out of here before a significant warm-up takes place. Sorry, Scott. Bet you’ll be laying out the newspaper in Waynesville on Tuesday without me.

8 a.m.: Measure snow. Three inches, and more on the way, according to the National Weather Service. Eat breakfast — French toast drizzled with tasty wildflower honey harvested last summer from the bees. Two slices of bacon. More coffee.

8:30 a.m.: Well fortified, it’s time to head down the mountain … on foot. Put on long johns, jeans, long-john top, T-shirt, sweatshirt, coat, knit cap, gloves, thick wool socks and lined rubber boots. Stop at the shed for a bale of hay, put it on a sled, continue down the mountain. I know there is a crowd of hungry goats, sheep, chickens, two guard dogs and one orange barn cat named Jack at the barn down at the mountain’s base.

8:40 a.m. I’m absolutely burning up. I’m partway down the mountain. It is in the mid 30s, and I could comfortably exist in the arctic with the amount of clothing I’ve put on … what was I thinking? Take off the coat, the knit cap and the sweatshirt. Continue to the barn.

8:45 a.m.: Finally at the barn. Coax the seven goats into their respective stalls for feeding. The billy, Boo, and the wether, Brownie, are in one stall together. Peggy Sue and Delilah in another. Sochan and Chrysanthemum in a third. Thelma — the queen goat — still eats on the milking stand where she was milked until being dried off in November. Feed them.

9 a.m.: Carry water from the spring to the animals. The small pond where I’m dipping the water is gorgeous, unbelievabley clear and ringed about with snow. The water tank was drained last week because it needed cleaning, and there hasn’t been rainfall since. I’ll be carrying hot water down the mountain tomorrow with the freezing temperatures that are expected. Scatter cracked corn to the 30 or so chickens, all absolutely miserable in this snow — they don’t like getting their feet wet. Chickens aren’t that bright, and it doesn’t dawn on them to stay in the barn. Instead, they are standing forlornly in the yard. Feed the dogs, who unlike the chickens, think the snow is terrific. Feed the cat. Feed the sheep. Look at Sophie’s udder. We think she is pregnant, but her udder isn’t showing signs of filling out, which the veterinarian said to watch for. Maybe the ewe is simply really, really fat?

9:30 a.m.: Give each of the goats a penicillin shot. This must be done twice each day for five days. A virulent cold is running through the herd. Runny noses and coughs abound. The does are pregnant, and with the added stress of severe cold, it seemed wisest to start them on antibiotics. I worked as a vet tech during college, so I’ve given shots before, but goats are proving a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It’s really hard to find enough skin to pull out for the shot — maybe I can get a veterinarian to demonstrate if I ever get off the mountain again. The goats hate the shots. I don’t blame them. I feel bad for causing them pain.

10 a.m.: Carry four bales of straw from an unused shelter to the barn, and one farther down to the sheep shelter. Break them open and scatter them about. Fall once, landing on my back, while moving the straw bales. Wonder what would happen if I broke a bone or something. The cell phone is in the house, back on top of the mountain. If I slip in the snow and no one is around to hear me scream, do I really make a sound?

11 a.m.: Dust myself off, nothing broken. Start back up the mountain, hauling the sled behind. No reason to worry about not making it to the gym today — this is enough of a workout.

11:30 a.m. Cup of hot chocolate in front of a fire. Self-congratulations for splitting and stacking wood yesterday.

Noon on: Watch birds feeding. Chickadees, finches, pine siskins, titmice, male and female cardinals in the feeders. Towhees, winter wren and juncos on the ground — all happy until a large hawk perches in a tree nearby, triggering a mass exodus. Eat salad for lunch, made with the last head of Chinese cabbage from the garden. There are still plenty of other greens, though, all tucked away for now under double and triple layers of row cover.

2 p.m. Start on this column. All in all, not a bad day, though it will be time to head back down the mountain at 4 p.m. to feed, give medicine, and tuck the animals away for the night. I like winter, even the brutal days when the simplest tasks become difficult. It makes me feel very alive.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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